National Park Service


Date of this Version



National Park Service, Washington, DC (2008)


Many repositories, particularly those associated with university and state museums, have a long history of providing curatorial services at no cost to the collection owners to manage, store, and care for archeological collections created during projects on federal, state, local, and private lands. At least two factors were involved in the development of this relationship. One was the enactment of the Antiquities Act in 1906. It required that “the gatherings” from an archeological investigation on federal land be placed “…for permanent preservation in public museums (16 USC 432),” such as university and state museums. The second factor was that university faculty and students were often involved in the archeological projects that created the collections of artifacts, ecofacts, and associated records. The resulting collections were then stored in their affiliated university museums, and the ensuing curatorial services were often provided to the federal or state agency collection owners in an informal exchange for access to and use of the collections in university research and education. This worked out well for both the museums and government, especially federal agencies that did not have repositories or adequate staff to catalog, store, and manage these collections. At the state level, some state-funded repositories, especially museums, existed and curated archeological collections from state lands.

The enactment of additional historic preservation laws, including the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA), the Archeological and Historic Preservation Act of 1974 (AHPA), and the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 (ARPA), and their implementing regulations initiated changes in that relationship. Several things happened. First, a sharp increase in the number of federal- and state-mandated archeological projects resulting from those laws yielded an equally sharp rise in the number of collections being sent to repositories for curation. Although repositories might have had room to store new collections in those years, they did not have adequate staff to catalog, conserve, box, and provide access to the sudden influx of collections. Nor did they have proper security and fire prevention systems in place (Ford 1977; Lindsay et al. 1979, 1980; Marquardt 1977; General Accounting Office 1987).

Second, the regulations “Curation of Federally-Owned and Administered Archeological Collections” (36 CFR Part 79 <>) were issued in 1990. These regulations clearly state that federal agencies own the new and existing collections resulting from publicly-supported projects on federal lands or from federal undertakings under their control, and are responsible for the long-term curation and care of these collections. The regulations also establish procedures and standards for the proper curation of federal collections, which include many potentially costly storage and housekeeping requirements that most repositories did not have in place. A number of state and local governments adapted these regulations into state and local regulations and policies, which affected an even broader range of repositories.